Feeling at Home in the UK as an expat

Our columnist Ngaire Ackerley gives you a few tips on how to make yourself feel at home in the UK.

 
 

hyde-park-copyright-ngaire-ackerley-2010If anyone had told me how hard it is to leave everything back in New Zealand and come to a new country with no friends, family, job or accommodation I probably wouldn’t have believed them.

And it probably wouldn’t have stopped me anyway. It’s hard, but with time you can make yourself feel at home to some extent. I just wish I’d learnt how sooner rather than later.

I started in London over four years ago. People say it takes 6 months to get settled in London and not get home sick, but to be honest I probably took 3 years to get settled, but about 2 before I started feeling that little pang for home (bit mixed up I know).

So ‘What have I missed from home?’

Family is I’ve course a big one. I don’t have a huge family, but those I do have, I miss. I miss seeing my nephews grow up, I miss being at birthdays, Christmas and I miss keeping up to date with happenings. A month before I went back for Christmas at the end of 2012 a relative passed away. I missed out on saying goodbye. Things happen and you’re not there.

It’s not easy to write about this stuff, but a few things that helped me were simple. Light a candle. I have a candle at home that I light whenever I think of my relative, I’m not super spiritual or anything, but it helps.

As for family and friends. Skype is the best tool around. It can take people several years to cotton onto this, but Skype is a great tool for speaking and seeing (if you have a web cam) your friends and family back home. Without it I’d be lost.

I’ve also missed food. The UK just doesn’t know how to do proper fish n’ chips with potato fritters all wrapped in newspaper (helps if there is a beach to eat them on too). I’ve also missed pies (particularly mince and cheese ones), toffee pop biscuits, tim tams, BBQ shapes and yes, even cocktail sausages (the NZ kind). I actually didn’t start missing some of these things until I was a year or so into my OE, but I learnt that you can hunt out ways to get some of these things. The best solution I’ve found is Sanza, a site that sells SA, AU and NZ foodie treats.

Living in London, the closest you can come to water is the park ponds or the lovely (?) Thames… whereas, in New Zealand I’ve never really lived more than 30 minutes from a beach. There isn’t much I can do about that in London, but each time I travel somewhere where there is a decent lake or beach, I designate a good half a day to reading and relaxing by one, breathing in the fresh air and watching waves break.

I’ve also missed the Kiwi spirit. And watching rugby.

What have I done to feel at home?

I think it’s pretty hard for an expat with no ties in the UK to feel 100% at home. Many people have partners or close friends that they travel with, that makes it a heck of a lot easier – trust me. However, I have a few things that help me feel a bit more at home in London.

When I left New Zealand back in early 2010 I took one small photo album with me, this photo album held pictures of family, friends and a few special places in New Zealand. When I returned to New Zealand for Christmas in 2012 I created another two albums with newer photos (I had a new nephew to include) and one with more photographs of New Zealand scenery. At the time I figured these would be good to take and show people my home country during my travels, but more and more they have become a way for me to feel close to my family and friends while I’m away.

I think rugby was another way that I made myself feel at home in the last year. I joined both touch and tag rugby teams and played a season of each before getting injured. This was great fun, it got me out of the house and meeting some great people from all over London.

Meeting more Kiwi’s over the last year has also helped make me feel more at home. When I first came over I wanted the real UK experience, which meant avoiding Aussies and Kiwis and trying to live a UK lifestyle with Brits. However, Aussies and Kiwis gravitate towards each other no matter what, so I’ve been embracing it in the last year. I’ve been going to Kiwi Ladies Twitter Meetups, the NZ Society Oktoberfest and Christmas Fayre in the swanky penthouse suite of New Zealand House in London and making an effort to keep in touch and meet up with Kiwi/Aussie friends.

It’s definitely not easy living on the other side of the world to your home country, but home is where you say it is. Where your heart is. If you can manage to make that where you are right now, then that’s brilliant. If not, well here are a few final tips to help make yourself a bit more at home while your chasing your dreams:

  1. Have photos of friends and family. Put these around home, office and take a few with your on your travels. This way you can always think of the people you love or the places you love when you want to.
  2. Be comfortable at home. It’s not worth paying pennies for a mice-infested flat without a living room and the Internet (yes they are all too common in London). Well that’s my opinion. Try to hunt out decent flatmates and accommodation that doesn’t feel like you’re living in squaller.
  3. Join groups that have shared interests or fellow expats of some sort. You can chat about things you all miss so that you know you’re not alone. Google your location and an interest ie. Mixed rugby social teams in London.

Finally…  this is all well and good. But when you’re down and missing home, just remind yourself of your dreams and why you’re not in your home country. You’ve probably done a lot to get you where you are today, so keep that in mind. For me, it’s travel and photography. I’m seeing the world and the different cultures and animals it contains. I’ve become a bigger person for seeing and experiencing some really tough places and things, even if I can’t tell you how exactly. I’ve furthered my career more than I would have in New Zealand in the last 4 years. I’ve also proven to myself I can make it through some of the most challenging moments in my life alone and have become stronger and more independent because of it. My dream of travelling the world will never end now and I love that. In the words of Michael Palin:

“Once the travel bug bites there is no known antidote, and I know that I shall be happily infected until the end of my life.”

– Michael Palin

And finally, seeing amazing videos of New Zealand always helps keep that Kiwi spirit up and remind you that you really do come from one of the most beautiful places in the world. The video below kindly reminded me of that, from The New Zealand Story team:

Ngaire Ackerley is a designer, photographer and travel writer from New Zealand. Ngaire spends her spare time taking her camera around the world and blogging about her adventures on kiwifootprints.com and displaying photographs on designack.com.

 
 

 
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